Show Up or Grow Up: why our attendance policy needs to change

Have you ever sat in a classroom listening to a substitute teacher drone on name after name, repeating them with no response, because half of the class failed to show up? At Redwood, students quickly grow accustomed to the frequent absences of their peers, and teachers often experience one or two of their students missing each class. These absences are often not necessary, but due to minimal consequences that are not carried through, there is no incentive for going to classes.

Redwood had the lowest attendance rates in the Tamalpais district in 2015. (Kendall Rhoads and Amanda Trusheim, Bark Reporters) This blatant disregard for attendance was shown on the Monday after the winter break this year when there were at least three students missing in each of my classes, extending their vacation by a day or two.

High school grades and graduation rely heavily upon attendance, especially for core academic classes such as math, science and English. According to Brian A. Jacob and Kelly Lovett of the Brookings Institution, “Freshman year absences were nearly as predictive of graduation rates as grade point average (GPA) and course failures, two more commonly used metrics for identifying students at risk of not graduating.” According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the dropout rate in high schools across the country was 5.9 percent in 2015. At Redwood, attendance should be regulated more in order for students to learn and use their time effectively in class. Teachers would also benefit by not needing to create multiple tests or reviewing topics from previous days that the students miss.

Chronic absence is a major factor in students’ grades. In the United States, one out of every seven students misses over a month of school each year, according to Attendance Works.  By enforcing attendance at school, we will create a healthier and stronger learning environment that isn’t a constant catch-up game with the teacher and the material covered in class. There will also be less time spent outside of class making up work and adding to the students’ workload.

sondheim herding cats

Illustration by Micaela Wilcox

There is a strong correlation between high test grades and regular attendance to all classes, according to Jeffrey D. Cassell of East Tennessee State University. By making it to classes, students will be able to learn the material, work with other students and get the full lessons and explanations provided by teachers. Students are also able to ask questions and listen to questions asked by other students.

Redwood recently changed the attendance policy, although they did not outline any consequences who failed to show up to school. Assistant Principal LaSandra White sent out an email to parents to inform them of the changes.

“This semester we will be providing you with weekly updates, via email, with your student’s weekly attendance totals,” White wrote.

Our current attendance policy also allows five unexcused absences per class in a school year before there can be any consequences, which include the removal of parking passes as well as grade reductions, although the consequences are rarely put into action. Many didn’t realize that there were changes to the attendance policy and students aware of the policy changes ignore them, leaving much room for improvement.

Frequently, students say they have a doctor’s appointment or feel “under the weather” so that they can ditch. By making these claims their absence is counted as excused due to the difficulty for faculty to determine the credibility of their illnesses.  The attendance at Redwood could go from the worst attendance in the district to the best, without a struggle for power between the administration and parents whose children were “sick.”

A possible solution to our attendance issues at Redwood would be to use positive reinforcement for attending classes. By using policies that are less scare-tactic oriented and more focused on figuring out ways to make the school day less stressful, students may feel more inclined to go to class. Incentives such as giving the students grade bumps or extra credit opportunities on tests for being present at school may be effective, as well as making doctor’s notes mandatory for excused absences. Making class time valuable and providing time to ask questions and review class topics, would entice students to show up on time every day.

The attendance policy at Redwood needs to change to create a positive view on going to classes, instead of the idea that not attending allows you to finish a homework assignment without losing points. Students should be aware of the effect that absences have on their future and the difference in grades and knowledge for going to class daily. Redwood needs to work on reinforcing good behavior, and students may start to see the benefits to going to classes everyday.

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